Disposition of Dependent Children

In the timeline of court hearings, the disposition hearing occurs immediately after adjudication. The adjudication and disposition are separate processes and serve two different purposes. The majority of jurisdictions in Pennsylvania hold these hearings consecutively for the purposes of timeliness and convenience. This occurs for several reasons: many, if not all, of the parties are the same at both hearings, much of the evidence presented is similar, it aids to expedite the process and many times the outcomes overlap.

In the event a child is removed from the home, the disposition hearing must be held within 20 days of the findings of clear and convincing evidence of adjudication. (Pa.R.J.C.P. 1408 & 1510).

In the juvenile court process, disposition is the stage in which the court determines who shall have custody of the child in question, as well as what services should be provided to the child and family after determining that jurisdiction is proper. In the interest of protecting the child from further neglect or abuse — which is the circumstance which necessitated the family’s appearance at dependency court — a court will make the decision whether to remove the child from the home, continue out-of-home placement and review safe alternatives to placement or return the child to the home.

In its written findings of fact and legal conclusions, a court must address both the immediate and long-term plans for the maintenance of child, including the nature of the placement and why it is necessary and appropriate under the circumstances. The court must also review the case plan as well as the concurrent plan, proposed by the agency and determine if it is allowable as is, or needs modification, and whether the plan is capable of being implemented, monitored and followed by the family. The findings and conclusions must include the services ordered and the corresponding needs to be met.

Further provided by the court, is its decision whether reasonable efforts have been made to prevent or eliminate the need for placement, and finally, if placement is warranted, what the terms are for parental visitation, and the parental responsibilities for child support. When children are placed in foster care, the court should order child support if the parents are able to help cover the costs of care, keeping in mind that child support obligations should not be unduly burdensome.